The 16th century literary cookbook by Chengalvu dynasty king Mangarasa 3, Soopa Shastra lists 19 recipes of jackfruit. One of these involves cooking the fruit in milk: Remove the thorns of unripe jackfruit and boil the whole jackfruit, remove water by piercing the fruit all around. Mix milk of coconut, cow milk and milk powder (Mangarasa mentions a unique method of converting liquid milk into powder by adding herbs and stirring) and add salt, ginger juice and ghee. Pour the mix into holes of the cooked jackfruit, pierce an iron rod and barbeque it with another dash of ghee!
Our ancestors were rasikas – connoisseurs, but it is unlikely that you may have tasted this dish even though jackfruit is abundantly found across South India. Nevertheless, it's worth bringing back these recipes to life. It's heartening to see the return of the native fruit, thanks to the effort of a few stubborn food activist-friends like Shree Padre, and by the state of Kerala's declaration of the gigantic green orb as its state fruit. Such is the fruit's attraction that kids are posed a riddle on it. One in Tamil, mullukulle muttu kavalayam, loosely translates as: 'Within the thorns, beads of pearls abound.'
Sure enough, getting to the aromatic, yellow, fleshy fruit is not an easy task. Digging into the juicy fruit requires skill, technique and the patience akin to diving deep for precious pearls. Nature certainly has a way to hide nectar deep in her bosom, reserving the treasure for the sole benefit of explorers and true seekers.
Jackfruit comes in dripping juicy variety as well as a solid whole that one can bite into. It is edible as raw, ripe and cooked. Be warned though that once tasted, its flavour and aroma will linger forever. It is almost impossible to steal it and eat it in hiding. The fruit lends itself beautifully to a wide variety of culinary art. It can almost replace cereal carbs as raw, immature and unripe, and stands in good stead for any vegetable.
Foods that have been intrinsic to our culture and ecosystem and sustained us often lose their value with time. An irrational dislike for the food that we grew up with or survived on takes hold. Thus abundantly available foods lose their status and are pushed down the hierarchy and replaced by new and novel foods that attract our attention. This tells you why foods such as quinoa, fonio and teff enjoy higher status in the Western world even though they have been the standard diet of native Americans and Africans for decades.
We are missing out on a lot of our traditional food thanks to mono culture farming and the death of diversity. The jackfruit tree has always been a part of other crops. Indeed, it is said that each jackfruit tree and fruit is a variety in itself for no two trees bear the same variety unless tissue cultured. Today though there are jackfruit farms and a large number of companies claim to make value-added jackfruit products with nutrition labels and health claims. It has become fashionable to treat every food as some kind of disease-curing medicine. Hopefully, Kerala's decision to out the jackfruit on the food map will help elevate its status.